Qualities to instill in children to prepare them for leadership
Since no scientific study has yet identified the “leadership gene,” it’s safe to assume that most people can adopt leadership skills with training and experience. That’s good news for parents who want their children to reap the professional benefits leadership skills offer in the business world.
Luckily, many personal qualities that make a good leader also make a good person — honesty, integrity, critical thinking, and authenticity. While most parents already plan to foster these skills and personality traits, they’re still only part of the story. Leadership is a unique ability. And not everyone is up to the challenge. Not all parenting techniques help increase the chances of raising a strong leader. Here are some that do.
Build a Strong Cognitive Foundation
Your infant’s brain is a sponge that begins soaking up information the moment he or she is born. And the more varied and targeted the external stimuli, the better your infant’s brain grows. In fact, we’re all born with about 100 billion brain cells. And as we experience our environment, those cells begin making connections with one another. The more connections, the better cognitive function, memory, and problem-solving skills we have as adults. When parents create the right environment and experiences for their infant, it helps stimulate their developing newborn brains. The result is more neural connections and a better cognitive foundation. Montesorri toys in particular are designed to do this, but the more engagement you have with your baby, the better.
Nurture Emotional Intelligence
To raise a strong leader, focus as much on your child’s emotional intelligence (EQ) as you do their intelligence quotient (IQ). Yes, it helps to have proficiency and technical knowledge to lead, but that’s not what makes a great leader. Your child needs the capacity to control his or her own emotions and, more importantly, to identify emotions in others. That’s their emotional intelligence. Managers with high EQ scores are more empathetic and better at “reading” employees’ reactions. These qualities help increase their persuasive skills and resolve interpersonal differences. Here are a few tips for raising a child with a high EQ:
- Help your child label his or her emotions rather than ignore them
- Teach your child calming strategies to reduce their anger or fear
- Listen and validate their feelings
- Explain how their actions affect you and others
- Articulate your own feelings
- Model healthy conflict resolution
EQ helps with communication, negotiation, collaboration, and conflict resolution. So, emotional intelligence is a foundational skill indispensable for good leadership.
Teach Them to Negotiate
Every parent of a toddler or older child knows that children have an innate gift for negotiation. Like little lawyers, they’re adept at stretching the teams of an agreement or exploiting loopholes. But that’s where their skills at negotiation usually stop. Children are worse at mediation, compromise, or lobbying for other’s needs. Effective leaders are good at teasing out a compromise between parties with different agendas. They use problem-solving skills and emotional intelligence to identify common wins and bridge differences.
To teach your child the art of negotiation, avoid “yes” or “no” answers to all their requests. Often, you have no choice. But when you’ve got some flexibility, take the opportunity to teach them how to compromise — to get something and give something at the same time. If you’re negotiating bedtimes, for example, give them the option of trading “just ten more minutes” for something else, like cleaning their room. Let them weigh the pros and cons of their decisions. This also makes them accountable for their choices.
One skill great leaders master is storytelling. That’s because stories inspire and move people to action. They take us beyond ourselves, get us to see our individual and collective potential. Leaders use true stories about historical figures. They deploy their own personal anecdotes and know how to tell a good joke. In fact, people like you more when you can make them laugh. And likeability in a leader works to persuade others to trust you and follow orders. Whether written or oral, storytelling teaches cause and effect and helps the tellers connect with others. Try these activities to foster your child’s storytelling skills:
- Have them retell one of their favorite stories until they know it by heart
- Play charades or a game of improve that challenges them to make plot connections
- Encourage them to tell their favorite jokes to other family members
- Record them with video and/or audio so they can hear their own stories
- Remind them to include specific details (e.g., taste, smells, sounds) when storytelling
- Teach them to evaluate details for importance, to omit irrelevant details
The hardest part of teaching storytelling to your child is the tedium of being their audience. But remember, as they stumble their way through a confusingly sparse or overly-wrought narrative, your patience will make them better storytellers.
Prepare Your Child for Failure
Admitting the virtues of failure is now a major pillar in the ethos of today’s business world. “Failure is the first step to success” and “Failure is the mother of success.” Phrases like these are all aimed at stamping out the stigma of imperfection — an unrealistic expectation that (ironically) sets children up for failure as adults. Prepare your child to deal with disappointment. Resist rushing to the rescue when things go wrong. Your role as a parent is to guide, not be a savior from the consequences of their actions. The last thing you want to teach your child is the expectation that someone will always be there to fix things. Also, avoid over-praising. Your child may grow too dependent on positive feedback. You don’t want praise being their primary motivator, rather than intrinsic rewards.
Acceptance of failure is a big part of how we build self-reliance. Our self-confidence comes not in feeling safe by virtue of others; it’s feeling safe that we can solve problems — that we have some control over our environment and how we respond. Healthy attitudes towards failure place it as a necessary step in improvement, not as a point for capitulation.
Equip Them to be a Good Follower
It may seem counterintuitive but learning to follow makes a good leader. Leaders need empathy and understanding. They need to know the frustrations followers face and how words and actions are interpreted. In the same way, your child needs to understand the responsibilities of a leader and the implications of their actions. And there’s no better way to gain the wisdom of a follower than being on the receiving end of a leader’s decisions. To teach your child to be a good follower, teach them the value of hard work. Use house chores, projects, team sports, and community service to put your child in the role of a follower. Hard work and follow-through will keep them grounded.
Hard work also instills a sense of humility. When a leader hones their humility, they know their true potential lies with their team. Egotistical leaders use intimidation, fear, and threats to accomplish goals. In the process, they degrade others rather than fulfill their true leadership role: to support the individual needs of the team for the collective good.
Written by: Hilary Thompson
Hilary is a freelance writer, small business owner, and travel junkie. With a background in content strategy, journalism, and business management, she loves to explore solutions for success, in all areas: health, business, parenting, life.